• Family Outreach
    Family Outreach & Response Program
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The Family Outreach and Response Program (FOR) offers recovery oriented mental health support services to families and youth.

A support group can boost your recovery through education, peer empowerment and problem solving

A support or recovery group can boost your efforts toward recovery by providing a range of positive experiences. Here are three features you may want to look for in a group that is focused on living well with depression, bipolar disorder or other psychiatric challenges:

  • Education
  • Peer empowerment
  • Problem solving around life challenges


The first-rate education that can occur in a peer-led support or recovery group is right off the street instead of from a medical textbook. Both types of education are valuable in managing the challenges of a psychiatric illness.

Support group

Medical knowledge is essential and helps you find and utilize treatment that is most appropriate. Street knowledge is what helps you live from day to day and minute to minute with the challenges of your illness.

Street knowledge embraces topics from how to keep from forgetting to take your medication to how to explain your illness to your best friend. You may want to learn how to tell (or not tell) your boss about your diagnosis. You may be asking what to do when you feel stuck in recovery. Or how you can save money when medical bills are mounting.

Within a safe environment of a high-quality support or recovery group, you can learn from and teach others the ins and outs of living with an illness. These lessons may take place formally in a group with planned educational events or informally with conversations among members. Street knowledge covers a host of questions that may never be answered in therapy. It complements treatment, and is not a substitute for treatment.

Peer Empowerment

Peer empowerment has been shown to lead to better medical outcomes for individuals with psychiatric diagnoses. More importantly, peer empowerment is associated with greater satisfaction in life.

Peers might be those with the same or similar diagnoses. They could be friends or family members who are experiencing challenges due to the effects of the psychiatric diagnosis of someone they love. Peer empowerment recognizes the person beyond the diagnosis and encourages achievement of goals and dreams. Peers demonstrate mental wellness and recovery from illness. They share their own challenges and validate your struggles.

Problem Solving Around Life Challenges

A well-run support or recovery group will provide opportunities for problem solving. In fact, the recovery focus comes from consistently asking the question, "What are you doing to take care of yourself?" This question can prevent a group from bogging down into self-pity and unproductive venting of complaints about life or illness. Venting needn't be discouraged; nor should it be lacking the purpose of quickly getting to a point where challenges are identified so active problem solving can begin.

Problem solving in a group is not giving advice. The conversational tone includes phrases like these:

  • I like the way you took care of yourself by coming tonight.
  • When I felt that way about my doctor, it helped me to write down my questions so I could ask them at my next appointment.
  • Watching funny movies or calling friends have both helped me when I felt alone. What kinds of things help you when you are feeling so isolated?

Problem solving respects that each individual finds unique solutions to problems. It can have four basic steps:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Brainstorming approaches
  • Choosing an approach
  • Evaluating the approach and continuing or choosing a different approach

Problem solving in a group of peers requires a safe and supportive environment where confidentiality is respected. It can jump-start your efforts toward recovery.

These are but three features of a healthy support or recovery group. They are high-quality traits to look for in the groups you visit and nurture in the group you choose. Take a chance on a support or recovery group. You just might find the inside track to street education, peer empowerment, and problem solving around life challenges.

Jane Mountain, MD, is the author of Bipolar Disorder: Insights for Recovery and Beyond Bipolar: 7 Steps to Wellness. She is a regular contributor for the ISBD Global, newsletter of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders. Jane is the founder and one of the peer leaders of the Depression/Bipolar Recovery Group of Midtown Denver.